Being the best marketed football league in the world basically means making a big deal out of everything. In the English Premier League, incoming players are treated as warrior-heroes and new managers as kings. But the treatment given to the annual launch of the new jersey collection -- the home, away, and even "third" kits -- surpasses all. Their ritual preseason unveiling has incorporated all the choreographed hype of a Milan Fashion Week Catwalk and enough dry ice to host a 1980's Bar Mitzvah Disco.
But this is about more than mere polyester high style. Unlike American sports in which revenue sharing predominates, the English Premier League is an anarchic entity. Every team is free to strike individual deals and maximize the income received from jersey sales, kit partnerships with sports outfitters and sponsorships with global corporations. Four English Premier League teams make more than $30 million per year from those jersey deals alone, making the front of these shirts, inch for inch, some of the priciest billboard real estate in the world.
Approximately five million replica premier league kits were sold last season, a number that hints at the profound challenge facing every club's design team. Each must dream up a style that looks good both on elite athletes and the beer-bellied, 40-year-old men who idolize them.
It was a squaring-the-circle test that drove me to seek the counsel of designer and creative director Isaac Mizrahi and invite him to cast a critical eye over the offerings. Mizrahi turned his nose up at most of the kits, condemning the majority as appropriate only for a "hooligan in pajamas." What follows are some of the highlights of this season to come, though truth be told, no team came close to conjuring what Mizrahi deemed to be the perfect Premier League look: "Hare Krishna meets 1920's swimsuit on the French Riviera."
Most Likely To Be The Closest A Team Comes To Glory: Arsenal Away
A new jersey can be a good way for a club low on confidence to temper fans' disappointment by evoking memories of a glorious past. In its final season as Arsenal's clothier, Nike returned the club to its traditional yellow and blue away combo, harking back to one of the greatest squad in team history: the 2003-04 "Invincibles."
The 2013-14 team with Olivier Giroud and Per Mertesacker may not be able to summon the wondrous, winning football of Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires, but at least they will look a little bit like them.
Most Likely To Be Despised By Team's Own Fans: Cardiff City Home
Few pieces of synthetic athletic clothing have been as controversial as Cardiff's jerseys in recent years. Malaysian owner Vincent Tan rescued the financially challenged Welsh club by paying off a $62 million debt, leading them into the Premier League for the first time, but forcing the team through a shocking rebrand in the process. With the Asian market front of mind, Tan chose to move out of the club's traditional blue shirts to red -- football's ultimate sacrilege, but one deemed to bring luck and ward off evil in many Far Eastern cultures.
Cue mass fan outcry. After all, the team is nicknamed "The Bluebirds." However, the two-tone Chinese red and cherry red monstrosity the club will wear this season is a political masterstroke. It has diverted fans' attention from the lack of blue in the garment by making them furious about the current couture chaos. Tan even gave them a vote to determine what shade the shorts should be next season. Divide and conquer. Non-Cardiff fans may find the shirt's plunging neckline reminiscent of Jennifer Lopez's Versace dress at the Grammys.
Most Likely To Trigger A Mod Revival: Chelsea Away
The jersey launch -- replete with dripping blue paint like a colorblind audition for a remake of Carrie -- may have been eerie, but it could not undermine the simplicity of Adidas' "back to basics" design. The clean lines make the home jersey a V-neck lover's delight, yet it is the white away kit -- a round neck -- that should be considered among the freshest designs of the season. The bold addition of a thin red detail above a bold blue line make this retro-styling scream mod revival: Paul Weller! Town Called Malice! Quadrophenia! Best worn while riding a Vespa Scooter and below a Fred Perry windbreaker.
Most Likely To Be Worn By Helena Bonham Carter At The Oscars: Liverpool Away And Third
If a jersey could be grounds for immediate relegation, this season's Liverpool away kit would be it. The club made waves in April 2011 by signing a (then-British record) six-year, $230.4 million deal with American lacrosse and hockey manufacturer, Warrior. Ever since, the New Balance subsidiary has proceeded to demonstrate a surreal design taste that amounts to a Reign of Terror.
Video: Mizrahi and Liverpool's new look
While this season's home kit tastefully pays tribute to the team's 1984 European Cup glory, the surreal alternate jerseys suggest that Warrior put way too much stock in the cliche "there is no such thing as bad press." Both are Ugg-boot ugly. The away kit is a Coogi-meets-Atari Space Invaders monstrosity while the "third" shirt, a tie-dye version of the Maryland state flag, appears to have been crafted under the design directive to "create something that makes the second strip "look good." Luis Suarez’s desperate desire to leave the club can be understood, if only on aesthetic grounds.
Most Likely To Make You Look Fat: Hull City Home
Scientists have repeatedly warned us that vertical stripes should be avoided at all costs. But football jersey designers have never listened, and Premier League returnees, Hull City, will be among those paying the paunchy price next season. As such, their fans should ration their pie intake accordingly. Still, the Tigers' traditional amber and black "angry bumblebee" look is a handsome combination. Almost, yet not quite, able to achieve the impossible: remain stylish despite having their sponsor's unfortunate name, Cash Converters, splashed across it.
Video: Mizrahi meets Hull City
Most likely To Only Look Good In Eastern European Discotheques: Norwich City Home
Think yellow and green kits, and the visionary creativity of Brazil comes to mind, the nation that gave the world Cirque du Soleil football. Norwich City's jerseys seem to have been developed as some kind of cruel design experiment to combine the very same colors and make them say the exact opposite. The clumsy style looks like it was conceptualized by the second-best designer in Albania as the perfect accompaniment to a pair of acid-washed jeans. The club's marketing materials, with their over-reliance on hypersaturated colors, only serve to emphasize how somber, bleak and lonely the winter nights can be around Norwich.
Most likely To Be Remembered As The Salman Rushdie Of Football Jerseys: Newcastle Home
This offseason, the Magpies' iconic black and white striped shirt has been the center of a complicated, ethical tug of war after Senegalese striker Papiss Cisse refused to wear it on the grounds that promoting high interest rate moneylender sponsor, Wonga, offended his Muslim beliefs. The protracted confrontation saw Cisse train on his own and refuse to play until photographs surfaced of the striker savoring a hand of blackjack in a local casino which somewhat undermined his moral position. The standoff quickly ended, but not before its existence reinforced an awareness of just how many Muslim players have thrived in the Premier League over the past two decades.
Most Likely To Be Understood Only By Imperial Storm Troopers: Swansea City Away
Michu & Co. will pass, pass, pass in a robust, clean, white Adidas-designed home kit. Yet, as if to demonstrate the innate schizophrenia of football jersey design (and to cement Wales' standing as the ground zero of bad taste football garb) their away kit resembles the Los Angeles Lakers', rolling out the purple and yellow for no apparent reason. Financial Services provider GWFX has jumped on board as a sponsor to complete the eyesore in font-tastic style, spelling out its name in Aurebesh.
Most Likely To Gain Anna Wintour's Approval: Tottenham Home, Away
With his trim, side-buckled collection of raincoats, Andre Villas-Boas has established himself as one of the most tailored forces in the Premier League. Predictably, his team has unfurled what could be the most stylish jerseys of the season. With new sponsor Hewlett-Packard on board, the full array (which includes a striking blue color officially referred to as "Capri") looks suspiciously like product placement for a set of office jet printer cartridges. Influenced by a sudden appreciation of Jan Vertonghen, Mizrahi declared this jersey to be the best of the class. Though they may lack the blurred sideburns of Gareth Bale this season, Tottenham are guaranteed to look handsome.
Video: Mizrahi checks out Tottenham
Most Likely To Be Worn... Everywhere: Manchester United Home
This year, the defending champions boast that their suave home shirt has been inspired by Manchester's 18th century industrial heritage. While the distinctive button-down collar and gingham check neckline hardly suggest life in the poor house, heavy machinery and bronchitis, the home jersey trumps the road shirt, one that repeats the bold check gambit of last year in a combo that screams "suburban picnic blanket." It matters not. Whatever the Manchester United design, the world wears it. Of the top ten shirts sold globally last year, United's stars were the top three in demand: Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa. Winning is the ultimate fashion statement.
Video: Mizrahi's Manchester mix up
Most Likely To Be Worn In A Biker Bar: Manchester City Away Kit
The two-tone black and dark charcoal shirt is reputedly a nod to City's roots, namely the strip worn by predecessors, Gorton AFC, back in 1884. Yet the shirt's odd, leathery look makes it seem like it could just as easily have slipped out of the wardrobe of the Biker from the Village People. Mizrahi was damning of the home jersey's simple vibe, suggesting that it resembled "a t-shirt that goes with teeny little bikini briefs." Perhaps the club's marketing materials hint at the true story of the designer's intent. The team is pictured against the Manhattan skyline, the very place they hope to sell a boatload of replicas...